Tis the season to write year end or decade-end wrap-ups, and erroneous predictions of the future. But instead of making (nonsense) predictions, I’d like to discuss where we’re headed as a community and the big problems we face moving forward.
Our mission is to help developers make their government more accountable and transparent through the use of technology and open data. In 2009 we focused on building infrastructure and community. In 2010, we need to start solving problems. Here are the big challenges on the horizon:
Taking a look at the apps from Apps for America and Apps for America 2, we’ve had some great, successful apps. Because of the Open Government Directive, we’re going to need to ramp up our ability to take data coming out of government and turn it into relevant items for citizens. Not only do we need to keep building tools that make it easier to access the data, but we also need to do a better job at telling stories with that data. That boils down to three things: we need statisticians to find interesting stories, we need designers to make those stories consumable, and we need writers to tell those stories. We need to find ways to draw these storytellers (especially the designers and statisticians) into our community so they can create ideas, work on projects, and be part of our projects. How can we reach out to those people and draw them in?
Beginning in January, the Open Government Directive will start breaking holes in the giant dam between us and our data inside the executive branch of government. We believe this will create a flood of new data. The problem will start shifting from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Instead of just trying to convince government to release data to figuring we need to also figure out where the real high value datasets are and what we can do with them. They need to be documented not only from the inside with Data.gov but on the outside through projects like the National Data Catalog(in progress). How can we manage the new influx of data coming from government?
Talking to Strangers
Take a look at the Federal Advisory Committee data released on Data.gov. This is really important, really neat data. But clocking in at 600+ MB, chances are that journalist we were talking about earlier can’t open it. And that designer isn’t going to know what to do with it. An eager developer’s palm will introduce itself to that eager developer’s face as she discovers that the 600MB csv file she downloaded was actually a 600 MB Microsoft Access file. We’re going to need to start forming teams, soliciting help from and providing help to people that we don’t know so that those individuals can work together to tell stories. The winning apps, for instance, in Apps for America, were made by pre-established teams– either in the workplace or groups of friends that had already known each other. There’s more than 1000 of us now, and that’s just the start. So how do we start creating new teams and new communities?
Creating “Gov2.0”, Preventing “Gov2xTheCost”
I’m glad Government is excited about new technology. Everywhere we turn, we see a federal agency talking to stakeholders and constituents about how they can improve their web operations. Unfortunately this is an opportunity for consultants to overcharge, under deliver, and fleece the Government out of hard-earned dollars.
“Gov2.0” should also mean, to government, cost savings through technology– by either replacing expensive contracts with cheaper contracts, investing in cost saving technology, or by giving bulk access to data so that outside organizations can alleviate some of the citizen facing burden.
How can we encourage government to seek out more real-world, cost effective technology?
Please comment below and let us know your thoughts– this is, after all, your community. 2010 is going to be a huge year for public data. Whether or not the movement for more access to this data is useful is largely up to you.